Do people even know what the word racism means anymore? I’m not suggesting racism doesn’t exist, and I’ve experienced my fair share of bigotry (on the receiving end too), but the term has become so distorted that at times it’s almost meaningless.
From Taxi News:
[Addai] said racialization is defined in the Human Rights Code as, in addition to physical features, characteristics of people that are commonly racialized, including: accent or manner of speech, name, clothing and grooming, diet, beliefs and practices, leisure preferences, places of origin and citizenship.
“In one way or another, I would say that segments of this Code apply to everyone in this room,” he stated.
Point in case: consider the recent Star article about taxi licensing in Toronto. It begins with a rather miffed-looking Asafo Addai claiming that City Hall imposes a racist policy through two-tier licensing for cabbies. He’s so miffed, in fact, that he’s taking it before the Human Rights Tribunal, accusing the city of systemic discrimination against minorities and newcomers. The words racism and racialism are tossed around like so much wilted salad.
What’s got Asafo in a huff is the “Ambassador” license that the city issues to all new cabbies. These require the driver to solely own and operate their vehicle, unlike the older “standard” license that allows cars to be rented out and ownership to be transferred. Obviously this severely limits the driver’s ability to make extra income and, with the cost of buying existing standard plates running in the quarter-million range (yup, $250,000), it’s usually not an option. Sure, I can understand why he’d be upset about this, and I’d definitely support changing it. And Asafo’s claim that this is, “inhibiting a group of people from ascending”, is absolutely correct if you ask me.
But what group of people? Is Asafo suggesting that only black folk drive cabs? Or just immigrants? Or people with argyle socks and dollar-store slacks? I can tell you with absolute certainty that that’s not true.
As a teenager I tried to join the police force but because of affirmative action, got the hand in the face, being told unapologetically it was because I was white. In hindsight it’s better I didn’t become a copper, and even though I didn’t like it, I ultimately understood the reasoning behind the hiring practices. But I know what it feels like to be denied something for no other reason than being a certain colour.
That’s really my whole issue with people bandying around the term “racism”. When individuals like Asafo play the race card, they’re actually doing a great disservice to real complaints of bigotry, injustice, and disparity. In fact, Asafo is the one making (or trying to make), a distinction based on race (or ethnicity, or income, or source of slacks, etc.); everyone else in the same boat as him are just people — white, black, and every other colour that can fit into the driver’s seat of a cab. Between Asafo and me, I’d say I came a lot closer to blatant systemic racism. (And I wouldn’t really call that racism.)
The other problem with Mr. Addai’s assertion is the fact that Toronto currently only issues one type of taxi licence, not two. The Ambassador program started in the late nineties specifically to address the problem of inequality — the other type of license was discontinued at that point (still exists, just not being issued). It doesn’t matter what colour your skin is, how much money you have, or even how nice your smile is, the Ambassador license is the only one you can get. No one’s picking on Asafo because of his race, his place of birth, his age, his weight, etc. — he’s getting the shaft just like all his cabbie brethren and sistren. Just because most of them happen to be immigrants doesn’t make it racism.
And saying that racialism is some random mix of attributes that varies from person to person — that’s just dumb.
By the way, did you know that Toronto has a monthly newspaper dedicated to the local taxi industry? Neither did I, until I found a copy in the disheveled racks at Metro Hall. That’s where I discovered that silly excerpt at the top of this post. It doesn’t seem like the most upbeat publication around town, but then again, being a cabbie doesn’t sound terribly glamorous either.